Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
Some time during the early 1980s, a car race came to central Ohio. It was called the “Columbus 500.” The cars were those big racers like you see at all the NASCAR races.
Instead of a racetrack, they raced through the streets of “downtown” Columbus. That sounded like it might be fun to watch, so our daughter, Jenny, and I went to see the race. There was seating at locations throughout the area. We sat in bleachers at the corner of Town and Front Streets.
That was a good spot, because the racecars came flying down Town Street, headed east. Then, when they got to our corner, they had to make the sharp turn to the right onto Front Street. Once they made that turn, they gunned their engines as they headed south. We were only about 50 feet from the cars and you wouldn’t believe how loud it was.
I think a lot of people were really impressed by that race. However, I soon got a little bored. You see, that wasn’t my first car race. I had seen another one years earlier, and it was so exciting, the Columbus 500 just couldn’t compete with it. Let me tell you about that race.
It was held on July 4, 1938, in Bradford Ohio. Our family had gone there to spend the day with my great uncle, Jake Hudson. We would have a picnic lunch in the park, and then spend the afternoon watching the race.
A special track had been built. It wasn’t an oval track. Instead, it was built in the shape of a figure “8.” As a result, the cars had to cross each other’s path each time they came to the center of the track. That should be interesting. To make the race even more challenging, they had also dug a few potholes in the track, and they used fire hoses to convert the dirt track into solid mud.
Now, let me tell you a bit about the cars. They were all old cars, early Model T Fords and the like. Most were touring cars, and their cloth tops had been removed. We sat in the grandstand and watched them line up to start the race. Someone shot a starter’s gun and the race began.
I knew immediately that this was going to be great. Those old cars were trying to get going as fast as they could, but their back wheels were spinning, and they were throwing mud all over the cars behind them. After maybe 15 minutes or so, some of the windshields were covered with mud. A driver might then try to stick his head out the left side, only to get hit in the face with a chunk of mud. I mean, this was my kind of entertainment.As the race went on, and more and more cars were jockeying for position to get through the center of the figure 8, there were a lot of crashes. No drivers got hurt, however. I think that was probably because they couldn’t go too fast on that muddy track.
One by one cars dropped out of the race. Maybe the radiator boiled over and the engine froze. Or a front wheel was knocked all whopper jawed. And sometimes a car just got stuck in one of those holes dug in the track.
As I look back, I’m not sure which car was the winner. What I do remember is that there was a lot of mud, a lot of crashes, and a lot of laughing. After seeing that race, it’s no wonder, all those years later, the Columbus 500 seemed a little boring to me.
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